Top Books of 2017

It is December and that means best of the year lists! It’s fun to learn which I’ve read have been lauded (if any) and discover new books to read in the upcoming year. I’m going to make my annual contribution to the list. However, most lists focus on books that have been published in the past year, my list will be any book that I have read in the past year regardless of whether it was published in 2017 or earlier. I’m also splitting the list between books and comic books since there were so many good works this year. This week is just the books and next week will be comic books.

  1. Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild
    1. Hochschild goes to Louisiana to talk to people on the right to understand their feelings and mindset. She focuses on the issue of environmental protections. This isn’t the easiest book to read but I felt it was important to educate myself on how a sizable part of the country may feel. It doesn’t make me any less angry about the recent election but it does help me understand and try to articulate a way of talking to people who may hold different views.
  2. Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod by Gary Paulsen
    1. I read this book after I went to Minnesota to learn how to dogsled. Paulsen talks about how he taught himself how to dogsled and his experiences running the Iditarod. It’s a fantastic meditation on dogs and the crazy things we humans do for adventure. It kind makes me want to try it myself…
  3. A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab
    1. This is the third book in the Shades of Magic trilogy. I loved this series. In Schwab’s world, there are three Londons: Red London with magic; White London, losing its magic and consumed by power struggles; and Grey London that has lost magic and all memory of it. Kell is a magician from REd London who uniquely possesses the power to travel between the Londons and learns for himself if there was a fourth London, Black London that was consumed by magic.
  4. The Street by Ann Petry
    1. This award winning work published in 1946 is the tale of Lutie Johnson who tries to make a good life for herself and her son in WWII Harlem. All Johnson wants is a safe place to raise her son. However, forces beyond her control conspire against her. It’s astonishingly beautiful and heartbreaking.
  5. A Separation by Katie Kitamura
    1. A couple has been separated for a while but have not even told their own families. The woman ends up going to Greece to find her husband who has gone missing. It’s called a thriller but I feel it’s really a window into the world of an emotionally complex and at times distant narrator. This text really resonated with me.
  6. Bourne by Jeff Vandermeer
    1. I don’t usually go for post-apocalyptic anything but I liked the Southern Reach Trilogy enough to try this one. I liked it even more than the trilogy. Rachel, a scavenger in a ruined city, finds a strange plant on the back of the murderous giant bear Mord. She learns that the plant she found might be much  more complex than previously thought. The world itself is fascinating and there’s the promise of a lot work. There’s already a short story set in the world adjacent to Rachel’s story.
  7. A Hundred Possible Worlds by Bob Proehl
    1. As a person who has started to go to a lot of comic cons, I really loved this one. The basic premise is that an actress in a sci-fi series travels the con circuit with her son. At the end of her trip, she has to return her son to the custody of her ex-husband. But she meets a lot of fun people along the way; comic book writers and artists and other actors. It’s a good love letter to the industry.
  8. What Does It Mean when a Man falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah
    1. This book restored my faith in short stories. Thanks to LeVar Burton’s amazing podcast Levar Burton Reads, I was introduced to the title story of this series. It’s a delightful piece of speculative fiction about a world where mathematicians have discovered the equation to life and use it to calculate emotions. Instead of therapists, mathematicians can help people with their grief or anger. Other short stories in the text cover a variety of topics, not all speculative. It’s really wonderful.
  9. Found Audio by N.J. Campbell
    1. This strange book is kinda like an onion. A technician is asked to transcribe all the sounds on recently discovered tapes, which seem to be the recordings of a journalist traveling all over the world for extreme experiences. The bulk of the text are the transcribed audio. But that really doesn’t do it justice. It’s a meditation on memory, knowledge, the world as a whole? Just read it.
  10. The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu
    1. Another great find thanks to LeVar Burton reads. The title story is about a heartbreaking and slightly magical story of a young boy distancing himself from his immigrant mother. It centers around these beautiful paper sculptures that his mother makes that turn into moving creatures. The rest of the stories cover the gamut; some are also speculative fiction such as stories about leaving the earth or finding a way to travel back into the past to experience atrocities firsthand.
  11. Cheddar/Cheesemonger by Gordon Edgar
    1. These two books dive into the wonderful world of cheese. Cheddar, appropriately, focuses on this beautiful cheese. He talks about the cheddar industry in the US and the UK. When I finished, I ran to the store to buy two new cheddars and held a cheddar tasting between my 11 year old aged cheddar, Dunbarton Cheese (a cheddar infused with blue cheese), and a cloth bound cheddar. It was so good.
    2. Cheesemonger is more about his life as a cheesemonger as a whole. He talks about how he learned to love cheese and the cooperative where he works. If you are  a cheese junkie, this book is for you. Each chapter has two cheese recommendations.
  12. The Pickle Index by Eli Horowitz
    1. This delightful strange book is about a ragtag circus where the lead clown/performer makes a critical mistake: he makes the audience laugh. My copy was a delight to read: the book was in two hardback books and I had to alternate books every chapter. I’ve written mroe extensively here: https://bookriot.com/2017/10/19/books-inventive-structures/
  13. The Gap of Time  by Jeannette Winterson
    1. The Gap of Time is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series where authors are asked to write novels based on Shakespearean plays. Winterson chose A Winter’s Tale, which is quite the problem play, and turns it into a really beautiful work. Set in the modern day between US and the UK, there’s a jealous husband, wronged wife, and a lost child found by sweet folk who raise her as their own.
  14. American Gods by Neil Gaiman
    1. I finally got arond to reading this text after we went to the House on the Rock, a good combination. For the few people who haven’t read it, it’s about Shadow who finally is released from prison but discovers his beloved wife had died a few days before his release. He meets a man on a plane called Wednesday who hires him for protection. It’s a tale full of gods, spirits and more.
  15. Dunbar by Edward St Aubyn
    1. Another great addition to the Shakespeare Hogarth collection, this was probably my favorite book this year. St. Aubyn chose to King Lear as his source material. It’s not my favorite of the tragedies but he makes the case why it should be. (I may like it better than the actual play). Lear is cast in the role of a elderly telecom mogul whose two daughters have forced into a sanatorium in the UK. His favorite daughter Florence struggles to find him. I’ve said heartbreaking a lot in this list but this one had me crying on a bus.
  16. Sudden Fiction Latino edited by by Robert Shapard, James Thomas (Editor), Luisa Valenzuela
    1. This text is filled with flash fiction or stories less than 1000 words. It’s a great selection of the greats of Latin American literature and many new rising (or risen talents). If you want to read more fiction from Latin America, it’s worth reading. If you want to read more flash fiction, check this out.
  17. The Library on Mount Char by Scott Hawkins
    1. This just squeezed in. Recommended to me by Penguin’s Hotline, this very dark and inventive book about a library with the secrets of the universe was extremely compelling.  In this world, Carolyn and other children are orphaned and adopted by Father who trains them to be librarians. Each child has their own specific area of study. But then Father disappears and they are all exiled from the Library. I will warn you all that this gets very gruesome at times but I couldn’t put it down.

Stay tuned for best comics of 2017.

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